The 9 best travel credit cards in Canada for 2021

Ratehub.ca
by Ratehub.ca January 4, 2021 / 8 Comments

Travel can be expensive, but a good travel credit card can help offset the cost — or help you travel for free — by rewarding you points or miles for making everyday purchases.

In addition to earning points that can be redeemed for everything from flight tickets and hotel stays to cruises, vacation packages and more, several travel cards also offer side perks including access to airport lounges, welcome bonus offers, and travel insurance that can further help you save on travel.

To help you decode the ins and outs of travel rewards programs, we’ve rounded up the best travel credit cards in Canada for 2021.

Best travel credit cards in Canada for 2021

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Best overall travel credit card

American Express Cobalt

  • Annual fee: $120 (charged at $10 monthly)
  • Earn 5 points per $1 on dining and groceries
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on gas, taxis, public transit and travel (air, water, rail, or hotels)
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Welcome Offer: up to 45,000 bonus points
  • Income required: No specific amount

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

The American Express Cobalt continues to cement its place as one of Canada’s best travel credit cards in 2021 for its huge points multipliers – offering a lucrative five times the points for every dollar spent on “eats and drinks” and two points per dollar on “travel and transit.”

With the Cobalt Card, you’ll have the flexibility to redeem points for travel in two ways:

  • The very simple-to-understand Flexible Points Travel Program where 1,000 points is worth a consistent $10 (1 cent per point) in savings towards flights, hotel stays, car rentals, cruises, and more; or
  • The Fixed Points Travel Program, which operates according to a rewards chart and lets you maximize points and potentially net up to 1.5-1.75 cents per point (or more) on round trip flights out of Canada.

The best part is you can use your points to book travel you purchased directly from an airline or travel provider and aren’t forced to rely on an in-house travel agency. That’s ideal if you like to comparison shop on travel sites like Google Flights or Expedia.

The welcome offer is another of the Cobalt’s standout features and is worth around $450 in travel rewards. You’ll earn 2,500 bonus points each month you spend at least $500 during your first year as a new cardholder (up to 30,000 points) plus another 15,000 bonus points when you apply by May 5, 2021 and charge at least $3,000 on the card within your first three months.

Why we like it:

Along with its strong earn rate on virtually all forms of food and dining expenses and up to 45,000 point welcome bonus, the American Express Cobalt offers cardholders access to AMEX’s lucrative Fixed Points Travel Program. By tapping this redemption option, you can squeeze upwards of 50%-75% more value out of your points (compared to the conventional 1 cent per point) when flying round-trip out of Canada on any airline depending on your travel routes. The Cobalt’s $120 annual fee is also easier to manage as it’s charged at a monthly rate of $10 rather than all at once.

The fact the card doesn’t have any strict income requirements means it’s accessible to more cardholders. Another great plus is it won’t cost extra to add authorized users (as opposed to the $30 or $50 extra every charged by comparable Visa and Mastercards), making it a perfect fit for anyone who plans to share the credit card account with a loved one.

Card travel insurance benefits:

The card includes a full suite of travel insurance benefits, including travel emergency medical ($5,000,000 for 15 days) and travel accident insurance ($250,000), flight delay ($500) and baggage loss/delay ($500 per trip). The Cobalt’s car rental insurance covers collision, loss and damage for vehicles with an MSRP of up to $85,000.

Additional perks:

American Express Cobalt cardholders get access to special offers including ticket pre-sales and reserved seats for concerts, movies and culinary events through American Express Invites, as well as 24/7 concierge services.


Best airline credit card

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite

  • Annual fee: $139 (rebated for the first year)
  • Earn 1.5 Aeroplan points per $1 on eligible gas, groceries, and Air Canada purchases
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on everything else
  • Apply by May 30, 2021 and, if you are approved, earn a welcome bonus of 20,000 points – plus earn an Air Canada Buddy Pass to bring anyone along to anywhere Air Canada flies in North America
  • Income required: $60,000
  • This offer is not available for residents of Quebec. For Quebec residents, please click here.

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

Aeroplan – Canada’s most popular frequent flyer program – has been completely rehauled and the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite along with it. The new credit card delivers a ton of value with Air Canada perks, enhanced insurance benefits, and a revamped rewards chart that airline loyalists and points optimizers will gravitate towards.

Cardholders will receive access to “preferred pricing” and can often book flights using fewer points on Air Canada. The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite also offers the first checked-in bag free on Air Canada flights for you and up to eight travel companions on the same booking (saving up to $30 in baggage fees per traveller on economy flights to the US or within Canada).

In terms of everyday rewards, you’ll earn between 1 to 1.5 Aeroplan points on each dollar spent. The value of an Aeroplan point isn’t consistent and fluctuates according to a rewards chart, which does make the program a bit more complicated, but also means a strategically-planned flight can stretch the value of your points beyond the conventional 1 cent per point offered by other programs. Points can be redeemed on Air Canada or any of the over two dozen Star Alliance partner airlines (though the latter will result in an additional $39 booking fee per passenger).

For a limited time, new cardholders can also benefit from a stacked welcome offer. You’ll get the annual fee rebated for the first year and 10,000 bonus points just for making your first purchase. Even better, if you apply by May 30, 2021 and charge at least $1,000 on the card within the first three months, you’ll receive another 10,000 bonus points plus an Air Canada “Buddy Pass” – or in other words, a complimentary companion ticket. Book an economy flight to anywhere in North America, and you’ll get a second ticket without paying the base fare (you’ll just owe taxes and fees). In more good news, you have a whole year to use the Buddy Pass as it’ll only expire after 12 months from the date you receive it.

Why we like it:

The new TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite packs a sizeable sign-up bonus along with plenty of opportunities to maximize your points values.

Between the annual fee rebate and Buddy Pass, the sign-up bonus can deliver up to $800 in value (or more), and can help you score a second ticket at a hugely discounted rate to anywhere in the continent including Hawaii or Mexico.

With Aeroplan’s new generous stopover policy, you can add a stop for an incremental 5,000 points on each one-way flight (excluding in the US or Canada) to travel further and see more destinations while redeeming fewer points. And with favourable redemption rates on business and first-class tickets, you can travel in luxury using points for premium seats that would otherwise cost you an exorbitant amount of money if you were to purchase them outright in cash.

Additional perks:

First checked bag free for flights on Air Canada, up to $1,000 in mobile device insurance, Nexus fee reimbursement once every 48 months ($100 value), and comprehensive travel insurance including emergancy medical coverage for trips up to 21 days for those under 65 (4 days for seniors 65 and older) as well as hotel/motel burglary insurance.


Best no fee travel credit card

MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on gas, groceries and restaurant purchases ($5,000 annual cap on each category)
  • For the first 90 days, earn 4 points per $1 spent on the three bonus categories mentioned above
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Get up to 10,000 bonus points
  • Income required: No specific amount

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

The MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard is a no-fee travel card that gives you two points for every dollar spent on gas, groceries and dining (up to $5,000 annually per each category) and one point per dollar on everything else.

Points can be used to book flights on virtually any airline (including taxes and fees) with no blackout dates. When redeemed for travel, 1 MBNA point equals $0.01 (1%).

Why we like it:

The card has no annual fee but still offers the ability to earn bonus points in three different spending categories. Plus, as a new cardholder, you can earn a 10,000 point welcome bonus – 5,000 points after spending $500 within the first 90 days of opening your account and another 5,000 points just for signing up for online e-statements in those same 90 days.

Card travel insurance benefits:

Even with no annual fee, the card comes with a strong insurance package that includes common carrier accident coverage, car rental collision/loss damage waiver benefits, and trip cancellation insurance in instances when an immediate relative passes away and you have to travel back home. The one drawback: It doesn’t include out of province travel emergency medical insurance.


Best Visa card for dining and transit

BMO eclipse Visa Infinite

  • Annual fee: $120 (waived for the first year)
  • Earn 5 BMO points per dollar on gas, groceries, restaurants, and daily transit (including public transit, taxis, and rideshares)
  • Earn 1 BMO point on all other purchases
  • Get up to 40,000 bonus points in your first year
  • Receive a $50 annual lifestyle credit every January
  • Income required: $60,000

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

If you’re in search of a points card with a Visa badge (for its near-universal acceptance) and spend a disproportionately large chunk of your budget on food and transit, the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite will catch your eye.

The card offers huge points multipliers with 5 BMO Points per dollar (equal to 3.5% in travel rewards) on everything from groceries and dining to gas, public transit, taxis, and rideshares. For all other purchases, you’ll net 1 BMO Point (0.7% in travel rewards) per dollar.

In another big boost to your wallet, the card offers a $50 lifestyle credit every January as an anniversary bonus. You can also rack up to 40,000 bonus points ($285 travel value) in your first year: 25,000 points when you spend at least $3,000 on the card within your first 3 months plus 15,000 bonus points after your first year anniversary.

BMO Points can be redeemed for travel from virtually any airline with no blackout dates or seat restrictions.

Why we like it:

The BMO eclipse Visa Infinite offers a ton of points on virtually all your food and transit purchases, and the fact it’s a Visa Card means it’s accepted at almost all grocery stores and dining establishments (which isn’t necessarily the case for rival American Express cards).

The first-year annual fee waiver, sign-up offer, and lifestyle credit combine to deliver up to $455 in added value for new cardholders in their first year alone.

Oh, and if you plan on sharing the credit card account with someone else by adding an authorized user, you’ll experience a 10% boost in the number of points you collect per dollar.

Additional perks:

The BMO eclipse Visa Infinite offers mobile device insurance, out-of-province/country travel medical emergency coverage, and car rental collision/loss damage insurance. Though, it’s worth noting it does lack trip cancellation/interruption and lost/delayed baggage insurance, which is a bummer.

 

 

Best travel credit cards for frequent flyers

TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite

  • Annual fee: $120 (rebated for the first year)
  • Earn 9 TD Points per $1 on travel booked online through the ExpediaforTD website
  • Earn 3 TD Points per $1 on your everyday purchases
  • Welcome offer: Get up to 60,000 TD Points ($300 value). Offer ends May 30, 2021
  • Income required: $60,000
  • This offer is not available for residents of Quebec. For Quebec residents, please clickhere

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

The TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite is arguably the go to credit card for frequent travellers, thanks in no small part to its flexible airline options and high return on travel spending.

Through TD’s and Expedia’s co-branded website (ExpediaforTD), cardholders can earn and redeem points for flights from hundreds of airlines as well as hotels and other travel-related expenses, such as car rentals and all-inclusive vacations. For all online purchases made through ExpediaforTD, this card will earn you 9 TD points per dollar. 1 TD Point = $0.005 when redeemed on ExpediaforTD’s website, so that adds up to a strong 4.5% on almost all travel spending. For all your other everyday purchases, this card offers 3 TD points per dollar.

The TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite also provides new cardholders with a first-year annual fee rebate and an extremely-accessible points bonus: 20,000 TD points after making your initial purchase on the card and another 40,000 TD points when you spend at least $1,500 within the first 90 days (must apply by May 30, 2021).

Why we like it:

First and foremost: The welcome offer. The 60,000 TD point bonus combined with the annual fee waiver means new cardholders can get up to $420 in added value in the first year.

This card also offers one of the richest rewards for travel spending, with a regular earn rate of 4.5% per dollar on any purchase made on the ExpediaforTD website. That’s more than double the rewards rate on travel spending offered by most of the other cards on this list and considerable bang for your buck if you’re a frequent flyer who spends big on flights.

With the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite, you’ll also have flexibility on your side as this card offers access to Expedia’s complete inventory of airlines and hotels. That means you won’t have to worry about blackout dates or seat restrictions. Lastly, with the ability to redeem rewards from increments of only 200 points, you won’t have to rack up thousands of points before you can put them to good use.

Card travel insurance benefits:

This card includes up to $1 million in travel medical insurance for 21 consecutive days (or 4 days for those over 65), trip cancellation coverage of $1,500 per person and $1,000 in lost or delayed baggage insurance. You’ll also get the standard auto collision and loss damage waiver for rental cars for a period of up to 48 consecutive days.

Additional perks:

Cardholders can get up to 10% off car rentals from select Avis and Budget locations and an annual discount to Priority Pass Memberships.

Also consider: BMO World Elite Mastercard

  • Annual fee: $150 (rebated for the first year)
  • Earn 3 BMO Rewards points per $1 on travel, dining, and entertainment purchases
  • Get 2 points per $1 on everything else
  • Welcome bonus: Earn up to 40,000 bonus points (value: $280)
  • VIP lounge access with the included Mastercard Airport Experiences membership, plus 4 complimentary passes per year ($140 value)
  • Income required: $80,000

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

The BMO World Elite Mastercard is a popular card for frequent travellers who tend to spend big on going out and airfare. With this card, you’ll get airport lounge access and earn three BMO Rewards points per dollar on travel, restaurant, and entertainment purchases, and two points per dollar on everything else. If you spend $3,000 on the card within the first three months, you can earn 30,000 bonus points ($210 value). You’ll also earn another 10,000 bonus points at the end of your first year, provided your account is in good standing. The card’s annual fee is $150, which is rebated for new cardholders for the first year.

BMO Points can be redeemed for flights, as well as hotels, vacation packages, and car rentals at a rate of 140 points for $1 (or about 0.7% per point).

Why we like it:

This card is big on perks and flexibility and offers the ability to redeem points for flights on virtually any airline with no blackout dates (points can also be used to cover taxes and fees). The BMO World Elite Mastercard also currently boasts one of the strongest welcome offers of any travel credit card in Canada with a potential combined value of $400.

The card also comes with an annual Mastercard Airport Experiences membership (plus four free passes per year), which gives you access to over 1,000 airport lounges around the world ($140 in added value).

Card travel insurance benefits:

The card includes coverage under World Elite travel insurance, which offers $2 million in travel emergency medical (for up to 21 days, ages 65 and under) and $500,000 in travel accident insurance.

Additional perks:

BMO has a price match policy when redeeming points for flights. The card also offers access to 24/7 concierge services and discounts on Cirque du Soleil shows across Canada.


Best no foreign transaction fee credit cards

Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite

  • Annual fee: $139
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 2 Scotia Rewards points on every $1 spent on eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment, and transit purchases
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other eligible purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Get up to 30,000 bonus points ($300 value)
  • Includes Priority Pass airport lounge membership with 6 free visits per year
  • Income required: $60,000

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees on purchases made in a non-Canadian currency and also comes with complimentary access to over 1,200 airport lounges worldwide.

With this card, you’ll earn two Scotia Rewards points for every dollar spent on groceries, dining, entertainment (including movies, concert tickets, musicals, plays and orchestras), and transit (including public transit, taxis, trains, and rideshares). For all other purchases, you’ll earn one point per dollar. You can redeem Scotia Rewards points for flights on any carrier with no date restrictions at a rate of $0.01 per point.

As a new Scotiabank cardholder, you can potentially rack up to 30,000 bonus points: 20,000 points after charging at least $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first three months along with an additional 10,000 points when you spend at least $40,000 within your first year.

Why we like it:

The lack of foreign transaction fees will save you 2.5% on all your international purchases, and is the icing on the cake of a card rich with perks, spending bonuses, and flexibility. If you spend $1,000 on the card in the first three months, you can earn 20,000 bonus points. The card also includes a Priority Pass membership with six free visits annually to VIP airport lounges worldwide. Lastly, the fact it’s issued by Visa means the card is widely accepted internationally.

Card travel insurance benefits:

This card offers travel emergency medical and accident coverage, trip cancellation and interruption, flight delay, baggage loss, car rental collision/loss damage waiver and more (read full insurance details here).

Also consider: Home Trust Preferred Visa

  • No annual fee
  • 0% foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 1% cash back on all Canadian purchases, with no limit on the amount you can earn
  • Not available to residents of Quebec
  • Income required: No specific amount

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

The Home Trust Preferred Visa isn’t a travel credit card per se but it does offers travellers a major benefit most credit cards lack: 0% foreign transaction fees. This means if you make a purchase in an international currency, it doesn’t charge any additional fees (most cards tack on a fee of 2.5% of the purchase price).

With this card, you’ll also earn 1% cash back on all your Canadian purchases and won’t owe an annual fee. One important caveat: there’s a small $12 inactivity fee that’s charged if the card has no sign of activity within a year, so be sure to use the card at least once every 12 months (even if it’s for a tiny purchase).

Why we like it:

It’s one of the few credit cards currently on the market in Canada with no foreign transaction fees. With no annual fee, this is a good card to keep in your back pocket if you travel frequently or make a lot of purchases in foreign currencies. There’s also no limit on the amount of cash back you can earn on the card.

Card travel insurance benefits:

As a no annual fee card, the Home Trust Preferred Visa doesn’t boast as comprehensive of an insurance package as the other cards on this list. With that being said, it does offer rental car collision and loss damage provided by Royal Sun & Alliance Company of Canada.


Best travel credit card for Costco / online shopping

MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard

  • Annual fee: $120
  • Earn 2 MBNA points on all purchases
  • Receive up to 30,000 bonus points as a new cardholder
  • Income requirement: $80,000 (or $150,000 as a household)

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

The MBNA Rewards World Elite manages to kill two birds with one stone: it’s a Mastercard and it earns double the points on everything you buy. That’s the perfect combination for frequent Costco shoppers, since the warehouse retail giant notoriously only accepts Mastercard and isn’t categorized as a grocery store (or any other conventional credit card bonus category).

With MBNA points worth 1 cent (or 1%) each when redeemed for travel, the MBNA Rewards World Elite earns 2% in travel rewards at Costco – a consistent rewards rate no other travel or cash back card can beat.

The fact the MBNA Rewards World Elite offers double the points on everything also makes it a top choice for online shopping or virtually any other spending category that doesn’t get much love from credit cards in the form of bonus points (think clothes, electronics, furniture, and more).

New cardholders who sign-up can get up to 30,000 bonus points ($300 travel value) in their first year alone: 20,000 points after $2,000 spent in the first 90 days and another 10,000 points for enrolling for e-statements also within the first 90 days.

Why we like it:

Aside from its flat earn rate and sign-up bonus, the MBNA Rewards World Elite is the perfect fit for cardholders who want an easy-to-understand and intuitive travel program. 1 MBNA point is always worth 1 cent regardless of where and when you travel, and MBNA Rewards’ website offers access to virtually all major airlines.

We also love the fact MBNA points offer great value when redeemed for e-gift cards – not just travel.

You can net between 0.85 cents – 0.98 cents per point when redeeming for e-gift cards from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Uber, Hudson’s Bay, and more. That’s only marginally less than the returns you’d get for travel rewards, which is noteworthy considering many other rewards programs will offer 30%-50% less value for your points on e-gift cards versus travel.

Finally, it’s free to add up to nine authorized users, so you won’t have to shell out an extra $30 to $50 in annual fees just for the privilege of sharing your credit card account with a loved one.

Card travel insurance benefits:

The MBNA Reward World Elite includes a suite of travel insurance benefits including up to $1,000,000 in common carrier accident insurance, rental car insurance (with personal effects coverage), and up to $2,000 for unexpected return (in the event you need to travel back early due to the death of a family member). It’s worth calling out the card does lack emergency travel insurance and comprehensive trip cancellation/flight delay coverage – which is unfortunate considering those perks are offered by most comparable travel credit cards.

Additional perks:

As covered earlier, you can add up to nine authorized users for free. Cardholders can also receive up to 10% off the base rate at Avis and Budget rental car agencies.


Honourable mentions


Best hotel credit card

Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card

  • Annual fee: $120
  • Earn 5 points in eligible Card purchases at participating Marriott Rewards hotels and 2 points on all other purchases
  • Welcome offer: Earn up to 60,000 bonus points plus $120 statement credit in your first year
  • Automatic Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite Status
  • Income required: No specific amount

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

For many frequent travellers, earning points that can be redeemed for discounted accommodation or a free nights stay at a hotel is just as (if not more) important as securing a deal on a flight.

Enter the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card. Relaunched in February 2019 following the merger of Starwood and Marriott, this card offers 5 points per dollar spent at any of the 7,000 hotels under the Marriott umbrella and 2 points per dollar on all other purchases. Points can be redeemed for free nights at any of those same 7,000 hotels, which include brands such as Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Ritz Carlton, Sheraton, Delta and over a dozen others. This card also features a large welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $3,000 within your first three months and an additional $120 statement credit provided you charge at least $10,000 on the card over the course of your first year.

Why we like it:

This credit card gives one of the highest returns on hotel bookings at 5 points per dollar, with points that can be redeemed at over 7,000 hotels worldwide. If you hit the welcome offer spending threshold, you’ll also earn enough free points to book four free night stays at select hotels and reap up to $120 in cash savings (which serves to offset the card’s annual fee for the first year). Another added plus of this card is its wide array of point transfer options. You can convert Bonvoy points to the loyalty programs of over 40 airlines.

Additional benefits:

With a Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card, you’ll receive a free hotel stay each year on your cardholder anniversary. You’ll also automatically be enrolled into Bonvoy Silver Elite status, which offers a number of perks including priority late checkouts and discounts on bookings and gift store purchases at participating hotels.


Best Air Miles credit card

Air Miles World Elite

  • Annual fee: $120 (rebated for first year)
  • Earn 1 Air Mile for every $10 you spend
  • Earn 3,000 bonus Miles after spending $3,000 on the card within 3 months
  • VIP lounge access plus 2 complimentary passes per year
  • Income required: $80,000

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

If you’re an Air Miles loyalist, the Air Miles World Elite from BMO should definitely be on your radar. At 0.1 Miles per dollar, this card offers one of the best earn rates on everyday purchases of any Air Miles credit card in Canada. Plus, like with all Air Miles credit cards, you can collect Miles twice when you shop at participating Air Miles retailers and also show your Air Miles Collector Card. Air Miles’ retail network is huge and includes stores like Sobeys, Shell, LCBO, and more.

In addition to its strong rewards rate, the BMO Air Miles World Elite comes with great perks. The card offers a robust insurance package with over 14 types of travel coverage including $2 million in emergency medical protection (as opposed to the standard $1 million found on most rival cards) and rental car personal effects insurance (rare for a credit card). Finally, this card offers airport lounge access with two complimentary annual passes to a network of over 1,000 lounges.


Best credit card for travel insurance

National Bank World Elite

  • Annual fee: $150
  • Earn 1.5 points for every dollar you spend up to $40,000 annually, two points for every dollar you spend up to $80,000, and 1.5 points if you spend beyond $80,000
  • Income required: $80,000
  • Up to $5 million in travel medical insurance for 60 days

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

The National Bank World Elite offers great everyday rewards, but the reason it made our list is specifically for its stellar insurance benefits.

Arguably its best feature, this card’s insurance offers up to $5 million in out of province travel emergency medical coverage, which is quintuple the coverage amount offered by most other travel cards. Its coverage period also lasts for up to 60 consecutive days for cardholders under the age of 55 and 31 days for those between 55 and 65 – not the typical 15 to 25 days – which is handy for frequent flyers who travel abroad for extended periods of time.

Finally, whereas most cards provide a maximum of just 3 days of complimentary coverage for those 65 or older, forcing seniors to pay out of pocket for additional travel insurance for longer trips, the National Bank World Elite provides free coverage for seniors up to 15 days.


Best credit card for flexible travel points

American Express Gold Rewards Card

  • Annual fee: $150
  • Get 2 points per $1 on gas, grocery, travel, and pharmacy purchases
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Welcome bonus: Get up to 25,000 Membership Rewards points
  • Convert your Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan, Marriott Bonvoy, and more.
  • Income required: No specific amount

Read in-depth card description (+/-)

Our love for the American Express Gold Rewards Card comes down to one word: Flexibility. That’s because the points you earn on this card can be redeemed for travel in three different ways:

  • For a flat 1% per point off any travel purchase (perfect for those who prefer simplicity);
  • By transferring points to any of over half a dozen frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs (including Aeroplan, Marriott Bonvoy, and Hilton Honours); or
  • By tapping AMEX’s Fixed Points Program – whose elaborate rewards chart lets you potentially get over 50%-75% more value out of your points on round-trip flights out of Canada.

With so many options, you can redeem points strategically and travel further with fewer points. The card also comes with a 25,000 point bonus provided you make $1,500 in purchases on the card within your first three months, great insurance benefits ($5,000,000 in travel medical emergency coverage for 15 days), and up to $100 in hotel stay upgrades. The one consideration: Unlike the other cards on this list, the American Express Gold Reward Card is what’s known as a charge card, which means you won’t have a pre-set credit limit and will be required to pay off your balance in full every month.

 

 

Overview: Travel credit card point values

Working out exactly how much a travel point is worth can be tricky – especially when considering there are well over a dozen major travel loyalty and frequent flyer programs in the country that each operate according to their own rules. To help simplify things, we’ve broken the value per point in dollars for some of the largest programs in Canada when redeeming for travel.

Rewards program Value of 1 travel point
Scotia Rewards
  • $0.01
AMEX  Membership Rewards
  • $0.01
  • Or up to $0.015-$0.017 through AMEX’s Fixed Points Program
TD Rewards
  • $0.005 on the ExpediaforTD website
BMO Rewards
  • $0.007
MBNA Rewards
  • $0.01
Marriott Bonvoy
  • $0.0117 (Specifically hotel stays)
Air Miles
  • $0.121 on avg.
CIBC Aventura
  • $0.0116 on avg.
RBC Avion
  • 1 point = $0.01
  • Or $0.0114 on avg.

The point values above are exclusively for travel redemptions like flights and hotel stays (as opposed to the value you’d get when redeeming points for cash back, merchandise, or gift cards). For some programs, we’ve also provided the estimated average value – such as in the case of Aeroplan, CIBC Aventura, and Air Miles – since points values in these programs can fluctuate depending on which part of the world you’re flying to and when.


How to choose a travel credit card

With Canadians enjoying more choice thanks to an ever-growing array of travel credit cards, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to pick the one that works best for you. Luckily, by educating yourself about a few key features, it can be easier to select the card that matches your needs and spending habits the most. Here are some important things to consider:

Sign-up bonus

  • While bigger is generally better when it comes to sign-up bonuses, consider whether the card is the right fit for you in the long run. Simply put, don’t let an offer alone sway you into picking a particular card since you’ll likely keep it even after the offer ends.
  • You’ll also want to get familiar with the terms of the sign-up offer, as you may need to hit a minimum spend within a specific time-frame in order to qualify for the bonus (i.e. making at least $1,000 in purchases on the card within the first three months of opening your account).

Earn rate

There are two kinds of earn rates:

  • 1. A flat earn rate that offers the same number of points across the board for all types of spending – ideal for those who prefer simplicity and whose spending doesn’t skew to particular categories.
  • 2. Bonus earn rate that offers a higher return on specific categories like gas, groceries, or dining. To maximize rewards, you should ensure that any revved-up bonus categories match your spending patterns.

Flexibility

  • General travel cards offer great flexibility by letting you redeem miles or points for a range of items, including flights on any airline — an ideal option if you don’t favour a particular carrier.
  • Co-branded cards only let you redeem points with select partners, however, they often feature airline or hotel-specific benefits and perks typically not available on cards that aren’t affiliated with a specific loyalty program (i.e. free checked bags and discounts on companion flights).

Perks and benefits

  • While not as eye-catching as a big welcome bonus, perks can save you lots of money and make flying or hotel stays more enjoyable.
  • Important benefits to look out for include insurance (like medical, lost baggage, and hotel theft), rental car discounts, and airport lounge access.
  • Evaluate the relevance and value of a card’s perks by anticipating how often you’ll actually use them.

Annual fee

  • The majority of premium travel cards come with an annual fee averaging $120.
  • You’ll want to assess whether the card’s rewards and money-saving perks (like travel insurance) will help you come out ahead and offer more value than the annual fee (consider testing out our handy credit card calculator here).

Eligibility requirements

  • The top travel cards tend to have specific income and credit score requirements (typically around $60,000 and 650 respectively).
  • Ensure you fit the requirements rather than applying blind because a hard check on your credit rating could decrease your score by up to 10 points. The best course of action is to research if a card has an income requirement and check your credit score before you apply (note: unlike when a card issuer or bank inquires about your score, checking your own credit score won’t impact it in any way).

How to maximize your travel credit card’s rewards

There’s more to making the most of your travel credit card than just charging all of your purchases on it. With a little know-how and effort, cardholders can boost the benefits of any reward card.

1. One of the main ways to maximize your travel credit card (or any credit card for that matter) is to use it responsibly by paying off the balance in full each and every month. All the bonuses and benefits in the world won’t make up for the hundreds of dollars in potential interest charges you could add to your balance if you don’t pay it off in full every month. Not to mention the hit your credit score could take if you have a negligent repayment history. If you consistently carry a balance, a low interest credit card or one with a generous balance transfer option would likely be a better fit.

2. Travel credit cards are geared mostly towards travel redemptions. Though you can often use points or miles for statement credits, merchandise or gift cards, these options typically offer less value for your points than they would if redeemed for flight or hotel redemptions. For example, Scotia Rewards Points are worth $0.01 if you redeem them for travel, but lose about a third of their value if you redeem them for a statement credit. Generally speaking, if you don’t travel much yet want to reap significant rewards, it’s likely that you’ll get more bang for your buck with a cash back credit card instead.

3. Be a double-dipper. Sure, no one likes a double dipper when it comes to chips and dip, but the practice can up your rewards game by letting you earn additional rewards from an airline or hotel loyalty program when you use your travel credit card. For example, if you carry an Aeroplan credit card, you’ll earn bonus miles when shopping on the Aeroplan Estore, super-charging your point accumulation.


Different travel redemption models

There are three main redemption models by which travel credit cards operate, with each having its own level of difficulty in terms of ease of use. Some rewards programs, like American Express Rewards, even let you access multiple models.

  • Consistent points: This is when the points you earn have a consistent value and don’t fluctuate based on when or where you’re flying to. Scotia Rewards Points, for instance, always equal $0.01 when redeemed for travel. These consistent models are appealing because of their simplicity and transparency (i.e. it’s easy to determine the exact value of your rewards).
  • Fluctuating points: In this type of model, rewards don’t have a consistent value and change depending on where you go (as with Aeroplan) and possibly when you travel (as with Marriott Bonvoy, which recently introduced peak and off-peak point values). These models are usually based on charts and tables that cardholders must consult to know the value of their points. These programs are harder to understand and determining the value of your points isn’t as straightforward. That said, if you’re willing to do the research, they can offer unique and more generous redemption opportunities, such as far cheaper business class tickets or stays at ultra-premium hotels that might not normally be affordable.
  • Point transfers: Another interesting, if complex, point redemption model is when some cards let you transfer points from one rewards program to another. Marriott Bonvoy, for example, lets cardholders transfer Bonvoy points to the loyalty programs of over 40 airlines. Yes, you’ll have to put in some time to figure out the transfer ratio, but if you play it right, you can use this advantage to earn more points from one program and redeem them for a higher value by transferring them to another program.

Credit card travel insurance

While many of us will happily devote endless hours to deciding what attractions and restaurants to hit on an upcoming vacation, few of us give as much attention to another crucial element of a successful trip: travel insurance.

Luckily, there are many travel credit cards (especially premium cards that carry an annual fee) that offer travel insurance as a key perk. While the variety, monetary amounts and eligibility qualifications (like age) tend to vary, overall a travel credit card’s insurance offerings can be one of its most attractive benefits. That’s because buying travel insurance on your own could otherwise cost you around 4% to 10% of your total trip, meaning that a comprehensive insurance package could save you hundreds of dollars. Of course, those savings can exponentially increase if you need to make a claim.

Types of credit card coverage

Many of the best travel credit cards in Canada offer more than a dozen types of insurance, ranging from hotel burglary to trip interruption and delayed baggage coverage. The card and coverage that works best for you will depend on your travel needs. Here’s a look at some of the main types of insurance.

Out-of-Province travel emergency medical

While your province’s healthcare plan will generally cover doctor and hospital visits within its borders, most provincial plans cover very little for medical issues when you venture outside – within Canada or internationally. That’s where out-of-province travel emergency insurance comes in.

This insurance will cover claims for any injuries or illness (like a hospital stay, the care of a private nurse and major dental expenses) up to a certain amount – usually around $1 million.

Take note that pre-existing conditions usually won’t be covered. Age plays a large part in emergency medical coverage too. For those under 65, some cards may cover as much as 20 days or more. Unfortunately for those 65 and over, many insurers offer as few as four days of coverage or no coverage at all – though there are exceptions.

As this is the most crucial and expense-offsetting kind of insurance most travellers will need, it’s essential to contact your credit card company to ensure you’re fully informed about what conditions are covered or excluded.

Travel accident

Similar to emergency medical insurance, travel accident insurance specifically covers you for dismemberment or loss of life sustained while on a common carrier (i.e. plane, train etc). In the case of death, your spouse or estate would receive the payout. Claims include medical emergencies like loss of limbs, sight and hearing.

Travel Interruption / cancellation coverage

Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance are slightly different.

For trip cancellation, you’re only covered from the moment you book the trip until you depart. For this policy, your credit card insurance will reimburse the non-refundable portion of your trip (like your flight) up to a max amount. Be aware that you can’t just cancel your travel for any reason. You’ll only be reimbursed for specific cases like illness, a death in the family, and travel advisory to avoid non-essential travel.

Trip interruption insurance, however, kicks in once the trip starts and applies until travel is completed. It covers you up to a fixed amount for non-refundable expenses (like pre-paid accommodation) when you have to cut a trip short. Acceptable reasons for not completing a trip include severe weather conditions and serious injury or illness that makes you or your travel companion unfit for travel.

Flight delay insurance

This insurance protects you from unexpected expenses related to a delayed flight. Possible causes of delay include bad weather or striking employees. Reimbursements can include meals and hotel expenses. Payout amounts differ per card.

Lost/delayed baggage

Delayed baggage insurance covers the cost (to a maximum reimbursement amount) of essential items like clothing if your checked baggage is delayed for a specific period of time, usually four hours or longer.
Lost baggage insurance reimburses you up to a set amount for lost personal property if your checked bag is lost by a common carrier (like airlines).

Rental car collision loss/damage

Collision and damage insurance covers you for costs related to a damaged or stolen rental vehicle. It only applies to your specific rental car and does not cover harm to other cars, people or property (for which you would need to purchase liability insurance). For collision and damage insurance to come into effect, you must decline the rental company’s optional collision damage waiver. Collision/damage insurance can easily cost $20 a day, making this credit card benefit a real money saver. Note that exclusions can include luxury cars, motorcycles, RVs and more.

Hotel/motel burglary

Hotel/motel burglary insurance covers the cost of belongings that are stolen while you’re checked in at a property. You’ll only be reimbursed up to a predetermined amount. This form of insurance often includes a variety of exclusions, like a proviso that the hotel/motel must be in Canada or the US, and that the cardholder must charge the full cost of the accommodation to the card. This credit card insurance perk is one of the rarest in Canada.

Important things to know about travel insurance

To get the most out of your credit card travel insurance, it’s vital to read the fine print. There’s an array of exclusions, eligibility requirements and compensation amounts. Here are some key points:

  • For the insurance to kick in, requirements vary. You’ll usually need to charge anywhere from 75% to 100% of the cost of your trip to your card.
  • As noted above, coverage only lasts for a specific number of days depending on your age. Those 65 and older are usually only offered very limited (if any) coverage. You’ll need to pay out of pocket for extra travel days.
  • Most credit card insurance plans will cover not only the policyholder but also eligible travel companions like a spouse and dependent children. Check with your provider who is covered and for what specific monetary amounts.
  • Time can be crucial when making a claim. For example, many companies insist on being alerted beforehand (unless in extremely urgent circumstances) of any medical procedures like major surgeries. Many also have a set period in which a claim must be made, such as within three months of the event, or coverage will be forfeit.

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